Western Washington University’s (WWU) Theatre Arts Program trains emerging actors, writers, directors and theatre technicians. Each summer as part ofÂ Western Summer TheatreÂ (WST) these artists get the chance to practice their craft immersively, on stage, while on break from classes, often alongside their accomplished professors and with thespians visiting from around the world. This gives the Bellingham community and out-of-town visitors the chance to experience a variety of once-in-a-lifetime productions indoors and out.
I first heard of this program in 2000 when I worked as a staff member of the WWU Chemistry Department. Several faculty and staff had been attending the productions together for over a decade.
The five productions below showcase both traditional and eclectic new plays, musicals and dance performances. The final production is the result of a collaboration with visiting artists from New York City. Get your tickets for one or all that will be performed at a variety of venues both off-campus and on.
FREE Commedia in the Park
Maritime Heritage Park
Thursday, July 19, 2018 at 7 p.m.
Friday, July 20, 2018 at 5 and 7:00 p.m.
Their season begins in July with a gift to the community. WST will offer free performances of Commedia in the Park. Commedia Dellâ€™arte is an art form originating in Italy that uses masks to embody characters. The performances take place in Maritime Heritage Park, conveniently located in Bellingham’s Downtown Arts District. Street parking is free after 5 p.m. and in this park setting, you can enjoy the sea breeze off Bellingham Bay while experiencing a modern application of an ancient art form.
Movement Graffiti Dance Theatre
The end of July brings Graffiti Dance Theater, a dance performance that is narrative in nature and falls into the genre of Dance Theater. Under the artistic direction of WWU Dance Professor Nolan Dennett, this production showcases the contemporary theater dance company in residence at Western Washington University and is comprised of 10 to 12 dancersâ€”current dance majors or graduates from the outlying community.
WWU Performing Arts Center Mainstage
August 22 – 26, 2018â€“six evening and matinee performances
In August, the season really starts to sizzle with a new show every Wednesday beginning August 22.Â The first is Young Frankenstein, a hilarious musical with music and lyrics by the comedy legend Mel Brooks and book by Brooks and Thomas Meehan. I’ll be taking my teen boys to appreciate this romp that first began as the cult classic film of the same title in 1974. The film remains in lists of best top comedy films of all time. I first saw it as a teen myself so seeing this adaptation for the stage with them will be a full circle revisiting for me.
It is a parody to the horror film genre, and especially the 1931 film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein which I read in my 20’s. The production has been modified since its original debut on Broadway in 2007 and has toured in Europe to positive reviews. I can’t wait to introduce my teens to this different form of Mel Brooks and see how WWU students interpret it. My teens already love Brooks’ filmsÂ Spaceballs and Blazing Saddles.
By Tennessee Williams
WWU Performing Arts Center DUG Theatre
August 29 – September 2, 2018â€“six evening and matinee performances
In addition to being a stage play that was made into a film not one but more than eight times since 1950, this classic is a memory playÂ that originally premiered in 1944. The term was coined by Williams himself to describe the play type which the lead character narrates the events of the play which are drawn from that character’s memory. As Williams first successful play, this little gem helped Williams become one of America’s most highly regarded playwrights. Set in St. Louis in 1937, Tom Wingfield is anÂ aspiringÂ poet whoÂ toilsÂ in a shoe warehouse to support his mother, Amanda, a former Southern belle who becomes obsessed with marrying off her mentally fragile daughter, Laura, disabled by polio as a child.Â The characters and story mimic Williams’ own life more closely than any of his other works.
Tennesee Williams’ plays are so full of wisdom. They are often tragic and keep you thinking long after the play is done. I’ll look forward to seeing how WWU presents this timeless classic.
Highlights from The Snow Queen, produced this past winter via a collaboration between Professor Rich Brown and Blessed Unrest.
WWU Performing Arts Center Mainstage
September 5 – 9, 2018â€“six evening and matinee performances
WWU Professor Rich Brown has been collaborating with New York City-based devising company Blessed UnrestÂ on an original piece. Brown recently completed a sabbatical stint with them in New York this winter. Artistic Director Jessica Burr and Managing Director Matt Opatrny Blessed Unrest will join Western Summer Theatre for a two-week residency to devise a new work, I Began Anyway, with the Western Summer Theatre 2018 company.
A devised work is produced via collaboration within an ensemble through improvisation. Burr and Opatryny will serve as co-lead devisers with Rich Brown. They will add a local touch by basing parts of the devised piece on the poetry of local Elaina Ellis.
I studied improvisation for a just a couple of years and am continually impressed by the creativity that can emerge in an open environment. Ideas are generated by acting in the moment, based on suggestions. I would be the toughest part would be choosing what to keep and what to let go of, and then somehow crafting that into a story with a beginning, middle and end, conflict, etc. to which we are accustomed. I’m excited to see what can be created and pulled off in just two weeks by this talented team.
Western Summer Theatre also has an associated group of community members known as the Friends of Western Summer Theatre that are volunteers and supporters of the company. These wonderful Friends help spread the word about the shows and offer opportunities to volunteer as ushers.
Be sure to mark your calendar, get your tickets and plan your trip to catch one or all of these interesting productions. You wonâ€™t want to miss a single step, note or word of these phenomenal performances.
Western Summer Theatre
Western Washington University Box Office